The well-rested Pittsburgh Penguins hope a three-game homestand and the return of Jordan Staal can get them back on track today, as they'll try to avoid losing for the fourth time in five games when they host the Winnipeg Jets at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins closed last month on a season-high eight-game winning streak, but they opened February with a 1-2-1 road trip. The club is now back home for three straight in the Steel City, where Pittsburgh has won four straight and is 15-7-2 this season.
Pittsburgh's recent lull has allowed New Jersey to move a point ahead of the Pens for third place in the Atlantic Division and the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
With Sidney Crosby still sidelined with his head and neck issues, the Penguins should be excited to get Staal back today for the first time since he suffered a knee injury back on Jan. 6. The centerman has 15 goals and six assists in 34 games this year and is one of Pittsburgh's best two-way forwards.
"I expect him to be used significantly in the game," Pens head coach Dan Bylsma told his team's web site about Staal's availability for today. "Maybe not quite totally to the 20-minute mark, but 15-plus minutes and on the second power play. Probably not 100 percent on the penalty kill. That may be a spot where other players may go in front of him where he normally would assume their ice time."
The Penguins last played on Tuesday in Montreal. The Canadiens posted a 3-2 win over Pittsburgh after Tomas Plekanec scored in the eighth round of the shootout. In the decisive round, Plekanec beat Marc-Andre Fleury to the glove side with a wrister and Carey Price sealed the win as he kept out a low forehand shot from Jason Williams.
While Pittsburgh will try to get back in the win column today, the Jets will aim for their first three-game win streak since Dec. 27-31.
Winnipeg, which is three points behind Washington and Florida for first place in the Southeast, used a late comeback to shock the Capitals Thursday in D.C. and will try to build off that dramatic win this afternoon.
Bryan Little eventually scored the game-winner in the shootout in the 3-2 decision for the Jets, but that was after Winnipeg rallied from two goals down in the closing minutes of regulation. Trailing 2-0 with less than three minutes to play, Winnipeg got goals from Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien in a span of 12 seconds to force overtime.
The tying goal was nothing short of a fluke, as Byfuglien slapped a shot from center ice, which deflected off a Washington defender and awkwardly skipped over the shoulder of Caps goaltender Tomas Vokoun.
"We didn't really quit," said Byfuglien. "We stuck with it and we battled."
Thursday's comeback win improved Winnipeg's weak road record to 10-16-4 this season. After today, the Jets will play nine of their next 10 games at home, where they are 16-8-2.
The Pens have won five of six and 13 of the last 15 encounters with the Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise. Tonight marks the Jets' first trip to Pittsburgh since the club made the move to Manitoba in the offseason. The Thrashers had lost their last nine tests in the Steel City.